Lighting Designer Talks About the End of “The Late Show with David Letterman”

By Priscilla Liguori 9/14/2015


The Late Show with David Letterman is ending its successful 22-year run with six Emmy nominations. One of these nominations is Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Special.


Steven Brill has been a Lighting Designer at The Late Show for 10 years. He describes the look the lighting team was looking to achieve.


“Definitely a rich late night feel, rich colors, a lot of depth, a little bit of grittiness, not 100% polished.”


Brill says The Late Show was very impromptu,so the lighting team had to be ready for Letterman to do anything, anywhere, at any time.


“We had a lot of set ups available for him to go everywhere….the center of the stage, the desk, the band, upstage into the audience… Every square inch of the theater was lit.”


The lighting designer says one of the biggest challenges of lighting The Late Show was that the set was a very old theater not originally meant for television.


“We had to modify and arrange different lighting positions and how things would get wired up and hooked up.”


Brill says that out of everything he has lit on the show, he is most proud of music acts.


“We had to light music every day and one of the challenges is to keep that fresh…So we also had a moving light package and a permanent fog package, a smoke set up, which gives you atmosphere for music.”


While there were elements of the show that never changed, like Letterman’s monologue, Brill says there were also elements he had to light that changed each day.


“There are always skits of some kind. Sometimes they go into the audience and throw things around. It’s a very unique show. Sometimes there’s a big bowl of jello that we’re throwing someone into…Everything happens quickly and you’ve got to be ready for it.”


Brill says Letterman was a great show to work on.


“It lasted a long time and I’m thrilled with that. Everything comes to an end at some point. But it was really a lot of fun.”


The lighting designer and lighting director of a show are nominated together for an Emmy. Brill explains the difference between the positions.


“The lighting designer does the initial design and plans everything out and installs it. The lighting director is the person who is on the show every day making installments, making changes, etc.”


Brill humbly says that he does not do his work to gain recognition.


“I enjoy making beautiful pictures, and that’s for me. If I make something that I love, hopefully other people will love it also…I do it because I love what I do.”


Since The Late Show with David Letterman has ended, Brill has moved onto to lighting various different projects.


“I am working on a show called CNN Heroes. It’s at the Museum of Natural History in the whale room, so that offers a lot of challenge because there’s a really really big whale in the way of everything. That’s a lot of fun because it’s night time, its got guests in the audience, dinner guests, people on stage, a little bit of music.”


Brill will also be working on the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.


Following Letterman’s retirement, The Late Show with David Letterman has become The Late Show with Stephen ColbertThis new show premiered September 8, 2015.